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Vogue Italia | Biennale di Venezia 2017: Sislej Xhafa, our interview

May 12, 2017

An interview with Sislej Xhafa to explain the creative prism through which his artist eye sees art

Sislej Xhafa, well known conceptual, contemporary artist is being shown this year at the Venice Biennale with a powerful exhibition representing his interpretation of the devastation and suffering brought to his country in the Kosovo War. He is well known for challenging stereotypes, prejudices and political realities and sat down for this interview with the author to explain the creative prism through which his artist eye sees this exhibition.

So we’re talking about the Venice Biennale that opens this month- How long did to take you to conceive the idea?
“The piece, the project, is called- Lost and Found and it is about the complexity of today in terms of human dignity. And I question especially the complexity in terms of, today, the wars and violence. So the project is about the missing people. So in Kosovo War, until 1999 there was around 5,000 missing from the lost war. So now it’s still 1,667 missing. We don’t know where they are, and the project is titled Lost and Found to highlight that aspect of pain and searching for justice in terms– in how the art can question and, yeah. Lost and Found is a project that consists of interaction with the public looking for the peace, and simultaneously looking for the people that’s missing today. The fact is that I work with an organization that have responsibility of looking for the justice of 1,667 people. And I wanted to make a work that can highlight that, especially in terms that do highlight even the wars today as well, in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere the missing people from the violence. Yeah. Lost and Found is open. It’s open for questioning and for searching for justice.”

Did the Pavilion ​architecture ​itself play a part in how you present this installation? Or was it other considerations?
“The installation made by the wooden pallet is an open “Lost and Found.” So there’ll be nobody in it, and you can see the same time, and space will mostly will be empty. So yes, and it’s a fact that usually, we have in airports, train stations, when we usually we lose the jackets, we lose, that I wanted to highlight that it shouldn’t be still so painful and present in more oblique way, and to stay interactive in terms of looking for and questioning that the injustice and still looking for those missing people.”

So people will be able to interact or they won’t be able to interact in the space?
“People will be able to interact. We’ll go to the space, then we’ll get to the understanding it will be written, lost and found with one phone – and that the phone will never ring.  It’ll never ring. Never ring.”

So it’s not an active phone?
“No, and the wooden pallets will be made– the wooden pallets will be covered by transparent plastic mat, because we look for transparency and hopefully, we can get justice for the family that’s still waiting now in 2017.”

Are there lists of the missing?
“Yes.”

Are the lists in part of the display or is it just something that someone can know about when they come to the exhibition?
“There will be small catalogue, a very small, kind of pocket catalogue. They’ll be delivered the day of opening. It’s 1,667 names.”

Okay. Is there anyone missing that’s from your family?
“No, not my family but the neighbors.”

Neighbors?
Yes.

People that have effectively been close to you?
“Yeah, there are. But then this is a bigger picture in terms of how the art can question the justice and highlight the justice, and looking for human dignity in terms of violence. It’s special that today it’s the family of 1,667 still waiting. So for me, it’s very important, as a piece, that it’s open, it’s interactive, and it’s very minimal. At the same time, it’s very engaged.”

What would you say to the younger generation who didn’t live through that?
“The art helped. The film helped a lot, to question things that we think are important for everyday life. But I believe with language that you can research and practice, especially in terms that can bring to the different dimension. Especially when the peace and idea itself, it’s a very painful but it’s very delicate itself. So to me, it’s very, very important to make sure to bring to the surface the question that is still ongoing, and to give some kind of hope to the family. So maybe the piece itself and an idea behind this piece can open a different direction of searching.”

What do you want people to leave with when the Biennale Pavilion closes because it only goes on for a certain period of time. What do you want people to remember?
“Memories and experience.​”

By Rachel Vancelette